The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic appears to be taking a bite out of crime in Columbus.
According to statistics supplied by the Columbus Division of Police, reported crime has fallen in four of seven key areas. The exceptions are homicide, burglary and larceny.
Commander Rob Sagle, who oversees the department’s Zone 4 – which comprises Clintonville, the Ohio State University campus area, Linden and North Linden – confirmed the data shows similar patterns in those parts of the city.
In some cases, the drop in the number of crimes across the city has been attributed to Gov. Mike DeWine’s order to close all bars and restaurants March 15 and his stay-at-home order issued March 22.
City officials compared the first three months of 2019 and 2020 and found reported rapes fell from 184 in 2019 to 175 in 2020 – about a 5% decrease.
The biggest decline in that area, however, came from year-to-year incidents in March, with 63 such incidents in 2019 and 39 this year – a 38% drop.
“I know that historically a lot of sexual assaults occur after bar closings,” said Tim Becker, deputy chief of the criminal investigation subdivision.
“They often involve people who are using illicit drugs and alcohol to extremes, and bars are (now) closed.”
In fact, most of the precipitous drops have come in March, when most of the state orders went into effect, closing many businesses and forcing people to shelter at home, Becker said.
Motor-vehicle thefts were down 23.6% for the year and down more than 32% in March, he said.
“Winter is normally a time of year for a high number of motor-vehicle thefts because people tend to leave their cars running to warm them up with their keys inside,” Becker said.
He attributed the drop to school being canceled.
Typically, juveniles are more likely to steal cars on their way to school, he said.
Although burglaries overall increased by 2.3% in the first three months of 2020, they dropped by 23.5% in March.
“People are going to be less willing to venture around and look for targets” during the stay-at-home orders, Becker said.
“I think they are looking for an easier target,” he said.
Sagle said commercial burglaries are up across Zone 4, attributable, he said, to increased opportunity with so many stores and businesses closed. Data shows only a slight elevation, however, Sagle said.
“Residential burglary is way down, with more people being home” he said.
Larceny and felony thefts grew by less than 1% in the first three months of the year but dropped by 20% in March.
Becker said that’s likely because so many stores have been ordered by the governor to close.
Robberies were down 3.4% over the quarter, while they plummeted 10.6% from March of this year to last year.
Aggravated assaults were down across the board, 4.4% overall and 24% for March.
In the first three months, homicides have increased from 25 in 2019 to 28 this year, Becker said. There were nine homicides in March of each of the last two years.
Sagle said each zone employs crime analysts who process crime reports in search of patterns and other useful data.
While this work is part of the division’s normal operation, it can prove particularly valuable in times when conditions are dramatically changed from the norm, he said.
“Reports are generated for myself and every officer that point to patterns and potential suspects,” Sagle said. “This data helps us decide how we deploy resources.”
Sagle said officers are being encouraged to limit direct interaction with residents to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our normal focus is to be proactive, to engage with the community so we can get the most information we can,” he said. “We don’t have that luxury right now.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re not patrolling. We’re still visible, and our plainclothes officers are still working alongside our marked units,” he said.
Brenda Gischel, president of the Schumacher Place Civic Association, said she is pleased by the decrease in crime.
“I hate to think it takes a pandemic to stop the crime, though,” she said.